Monday, October 31, 2011

New Year: Luke 2-3 for Oct 28

Luke 2 "says things" that you can't say in a textbook way about Christmas. Today there are two tasks laid out, to say something you may have overlooked about Christmas ("how is that possible?"), and to overlook something that others have said about these chapters, and substitute something better.

(Matthew 3:1:17 and Mark 1:1-11 are in sequence with Luke 3, when we view them "synoptically.")

There's something very interesting about the drama of Luke 2:8-14. In Luke 1, the reader can't help noticing that Mary and Zacharias spoke and prophesied about a "done deal": God has done something. At that point, Christ hadn't even been born yet, but was in Mary's womb. Yet to Zach and Mary, God "has brought down rulers" (Mary, 1:52) ... "God has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people" (Zach, 1:68). Done deal. See also Mary in 1:48, 53-55, and Zach in 1:69-71.

In 2:11, however, the fact has occured, "there has been born for you a Savior." The solitary angel ("I bring you," 2:10) gives the news, and the sign. Abstract news? No. "I bring you good news" (2:10). Just that somebody was born, in the "that's nice" kinda-non-newsy way? No. "...born for you" (2:11): for the shepherds. Those shepherds? Yes! One angel. Did you notice that before? In the sky? No. "There stood before them". The angel was right there in front of them (2:9).

Next (2:13), not in the sky, but "with the angel," the next event: "suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host..." On the ground! The Son of God in a manger, and angels on the ground. No need to be embarrassed that the Son of God was born on terra firma, and no need to stick these angels in the sky.

OK. The next task is to talk about how Luke says things that are better than what people have said about Luke 2-3. People have said that there is a gap in our knowledge of the Lord's life, between Luke 2 and Luke 3. Perhaps that habit of mind comes from seeing the date on each page of printed newspaper we read. Don't know. We do, however, have to allow Luke to say things as he wants to, and the Bible in general.

When a prophecy is true, then what it says is true, even if it is said before it happens. What Mary, and Zacharias, and OT prophecies already said about the Messiah is true, even if it is said before it happens, even if it not said after it happens.

Isaiah 53:2 says "He grew up before Him like a tender shoot / And like a root out of parched ground / He has no stately form or majesty / That we should look upon Him / Nor appearance that we should desire Him." Prophecy. It informs us about Jesus's growing up.

Prophecies, however, are not the only way that Luke has told us about the Lord's upbringing. He's been talking about it since 1:5! Zecharias and Elizabeth -- Mary's relatives, whom she stayed with while pregnant with Jesus -- they are lock-step with God's ways (1:6) and Jewish lineage as specific as Jewish lineage can be expressed (1:5). Angels visit both, announcing events! Luke is telling us of the way of life of these particular people, and of Mary's way of life in community with them. Joseph? Lineage of David (1:27). But was Joseph the father of Jesus? It was "as was supposed" only (3:23). But Jesus "of Eli!" (The Greek doesn't say "son",but the list is uniformly, "of A, of B, of C," etc. How could Jesus not be biologically "of" Joseph, but only the supposed descendant, yet be of Eli? Very likely through Mary, as Warfield has researched. So Mary was also daughter of David. The Lord's upbringing was as a son in the line of David. Anything else cluing us to the contents of Luke 2:53 - 3:00? What did Joseph and Mary, pointedly "His parents," do "every year" (2:41)? The required trip. Why did they "not find Him" (2:45) after a day's travel? Isn't the best explanation, that of His uniform trustworthiness?" Could it not be that He was so trusted by them, at this point, that a full travel day of trust was a matter of course, already a common thing.

Not just to hear about it from humans, how about God? Before Jesus even embarked on a single journey of teaching and healing, God appears, and says to Him "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" (3:22). What else could we ever want to have, which covers Him in every aspect including His upbringing until that point, along with His relationship to God the Father?"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Year: Luke 1 for Oct 27

What is God doing? In Luke 1 God's dramatic work immediately prior to the births of Jesus and John the Baptist is given in great detail.

It's tempting to put Zacharias in a bad light, and Elizabeth in a contrasting light, because of the comment of Zacharias in 1:18 versus the comment of Elizabeth in 1:45. But Luke does not allow that generalization (1:6). In fact, Zacharias is not only the father of John the Baptist who "will be called a prophet" (1:76), but himself speaks prophecy (1:67), the final one before Christ's birth in Luke 2.

Zacharias's words (1:68-79) are not even all, or mostly, about his own son John. Some are (1:76-77), but they're mostly about what the meaning of those times are for Israel. Zacharias "was filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:67). Thus also Elizabeth, before she spoke (1:41). John the Baptist himself, "while yet in his mother's womb" (1:15), the same.

The angel speaks something to Mary (1:35) that thousands of years of theology about the Incarnation have not bettered.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Year: Mark 15-16 for Oct 26

In Mark 15-16 the Lord's death and Resurrection are described in the same factual vein: "He breathed His last" (15:39) is the same reporting language as "He has risen; He is not here" (16:6): no hype in the language, no showiness of speech. When the women talked (16:11,13), the disciples didn't say something like "sweet story," but the disciples "refused to believe" (16:11) or "they did not believe" (16:13) at first. Later, that would change (16:20).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Year: Mark 13-14 for Oct 25

The discussion/discourse of Mark 13, which goes to "the end" and beyond (13:13) towers over the events of Mark 14 to the same extent that the Lord does. There is a context into which these events of Mark 14 have already been put.

(Matthew 24:1 - 26:75 and Luke 21:5 - 22:71 are in sequence with Mark 13-14, when we view them "synoptically.")

This pattern is again evident, the teaching about the significance of future events preceding the events themselves (1:2,8,24; 2:9-12,20; 3:14,19,28-29;4:24-25; 5:28), and here it is explicitly punctuated and emphasized (13:23).

Peter, James, and John were the three at the Transfiguration (9:2), and in Mk 13:3, Andrew, Peter's brother, is also there. Mark 13 in certain parts has that same panoramic scope throughout time that we notice in Mk 8:38, 9:41, 10:40 as well. Finally, these four notice it, and have two questions in 13:4. The next section (Mark 13:5-13), like the telescoped saying in 8:38 takes His disciples throughout all time until the end, from that time until the end. The second part (13:14ff) starts by describing a single situation, and sounds for all the world like a situation which the Lord is preparing His four disciples and their contemporaries who are reading this for. Then He goes back in 13:24, "but in those days, after that tribulation....")

Looking at it that way, Jesus answers both questions of 13:4. When the taking down of stone from stone will be (13:14-23), and what the sign will be when all these things will be fulfilled, both those described in 13:2, the sign being 13:14, and those described in 13:26, the sign being 13:24-25.

Before going onto the time of the Lord's arrest, Mark describes the exhortation to alertness, which is not easily transmuted to be like an exhortation to "be good" for Santa, or an exhortation to be good. It is not "be good," as such, what we might expect, with an accompanying threat, but to keep on the alert, be on the alert. What has the Lord just given the disciples for all time, to be alert about? A possibly particular event in Judea, or at least that Judea would know about (13:14) ... and a world-wide event that "they will see" (13:26). The exhortation, fascinatingly, is against finding us "asleep" (13:36). It is pointedly not accompanied by a warning of something negative, just an exhortation to not be found asleep -- reminding me of what a groom might say to his bride, or even some surprise wrapped in the timing, for the Son, from the Father (13:32).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Year: Mark 11-12 for Oct 24

Jesus is not only intimate with the details of the immediate future (Mark 11:3,6) but of the ties between far future and present (12:40).

(Matthew 21:1 - 23:12 and Luke 19:29 - 21:4 are in sequence with Mark 11-12, when we view them "synoptically.")

The parable of the vineyard owner (12:1-11) is heart-wrenching, but has a twist at the end (12:10-11), which makes it a real problem for those who think the church invented the applications of the parables. Here, the inexplicable actions of the vineyard owner are resolved only by 12:10-11. The Lord, about to be "rejected" and killed, "became the chief corner stone," (12:10). The people were often astonished (11:18), but they were also glad to listen (12:37). However, when "the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" (11:27) "understood that He spoke the parable against them (12:12), though they were also often amazed (12:17), they would characteristically just leave (12:12).

However, those he spoke against were not spoken against en masse, as if everything was a generalization against the label "scribe" or "elder" or "priest." For example, one scribe was highly commended (12:34), in a very enigmatic way that defies most systematizers.

The teaching to the disciples is of the highest and most inspirational quality (11:20-25) amidst all this. The Lord's time in Jerusalem was His as Lord of history, as much as any other time. All that the Lord said to the disciples here was for the quality of their ongoing lives (11:20-25; 12:43).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Year: Mark 8-10 for Oct 23

There have been hints that the time of the Lord's being taken from the disciples would come (Mark 2:20). Here in Mark 8-10, especially accompanied by the picture of Mark 10:32, with Jesus walking alone ahead of the disciples, on the road going up to Jerusalem, the reader can also understand why "those who followed were fearful" (10:32).

(Matthew 15:32 - 20:34 and Luke 9:18 - 18:43 are in sequence with Mark 8-10, when we view them "synoptically.")

But the road is also a follower's road. The one who wishes "to come after Me" (8:34) is not being given initial conditions, but the conditions for each step: each step must be self-denial, and each step must be the taking up of one's own cross.

In the rebuking of the disciples for not yet seeing or understanding (8:17), not only do we see the specifics: the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, which is 1) religious hypocrisy and 2) the submission of one's conscience to the pursuit of power (as Herod did with John the Baptist in chapter 6), but we also see that the Lord expected understanding from His disciples by this point (8:21).

There are a couple of verses that defy references in this section. For example, 9:13. There are no cross references in my normally full edition. Where is it that they did to Elijah "just as it is written of him"? The only thing I could think of was something like I Kings 19:2.

Chapter 10, in discussion about the entering into the kingdom of God (10:15,25) , and the disciples amazed (10:24), and even more astonished (10:26), it is often taught as a lesson on humility. It should be rather taught as a lesson on impossibility (10:27) for man.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Year: Mark 6-7 for Oct 22

The huge extent and impact of the ministry of Christ in Mark 6-7 contrasts with the lacuna of Nazareth also described here (6:6).

(Matthew 13:53 - 15:31 and Luke 9:1-17 are in sequence with Mark 6-7, when we view them "synoptically.")

The Lord's ministry, a secular viewpoint might coin it about these chapters, seems charmed. Jesus is not the only person whose popularity skyrockets. Every day and every culture can display those whose popularity skyrockets. In what way does the Lord's ministry interact with this environment? In the last chapter we saw that Jesus gave strict orders "that no one should know" about Jairus's daughter being raised up (5:43). In our chapters today, the Lord takes the disciples to a secluded place for rest (6:31-32). It doesn't last. Crowds come and come, running (6:33), pleading for the smallest contact (6:36). So the feeding of the five thousand (6:33-44) was originally supposed to have been a retreat.

Similarly, the sending of the twelve in 6:7-13: Jesus tells the disciples not to prepare in the slightest any more than the preparation for a part of one day; that is what He instructed them to do (6:8-12). Why? In this gospel, we put two and two together again. We must conclude that Mark does not describe Jesus's ministry as a manipulation for greatness of effect. He tells those He has healed to keep quiet, giving glory to God in their locality (1:44; 5:19). The demons are silenced (3:12). He leaves places in which His reputation is spreading (1:38). In the teaching, the kingdom of heaven starts as the smallest seed (4:30ff). And in the enigmatic statement, often repeated in the gospels, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (4:19; 4:23) there is an invitation, based on the existing condition. Jesus is not ordering loudspeakers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Year: Mark 3-5 for Oct 21

Mark's own way of describing the teaching of Jesus in the context of His ministry is to encourage the reader to put two and two together.

(Matthew 12:9 - 13:52 and Luke 6:6 - 8:56 cover the same period as Mark 3-5, when we view them "synoptically.")

For example Mark 1:1 puts forth as the first thing we know about Him, that He is the Son of God. The next verse, describing Him as the OT Messenger, quotes two passages, saying in effect, put them together. In 1:17 Mark gives the invitation to discipleship for two brothers, and allows us to use it to modify our shock at the actions of the next two in 1:20. In 1:38, the Messenger goes on to more towns ... we need that explanation to understand His healing ministry.

Part of Mark 4 is a series of parables, which implicitly invites us to put two and two together. What could be behind productiveness, and non-productiveness in the parable of the sower and soils (4:1-9)? Could it be in another saying closeby, such as 4:24-25, as well as the other juxtaposed sayings and parables? If we combine thoughts, there is a sense that things that have happened, even sadder ones such as the crowds not understanding Him according to plan (4:12), or the disciples being chosen, including one who betrayed Him later, are according to plan (3:13). The sower is sowing -- the word, which is something that is purposive (4:14).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Year: Mark 1-2 for Oct 20

(Matthew 3:1 - 12:8 and Luke 3:1 - 6:5 cover the same period as Mark 1-2, when we view them "synoptically.")

By the end of this very first chapter of Mark we are confronted with a figure of history whose appearance is like nothing if not "the Son of God" (1:1) -- Mark states the title, but we must fill its meaning in, inductively: we can see the unchangeableness and goodness of the Creator combined with the energetic goodness of the repeated and frequent actions of One to whom God says "in You I am well-pleased" (1:11).

This compelling action undertaken by "Jesus Christ, the Son of God" starts after John had been taken into custody. Repeatedly Mark mentions "preaching" (1:14,38, 39), teaching (1:21,22,27), and casting out what Mark calls unclean spirits and demons (1:23,26,27,34).

The compelling action Christ undertakes extends to His calls to His disciples: the calls are more like calls to join the Seals than the calls of a teacher or even preacher (1:17, 20). As God's "messenger" (1:2) there is need to go around to many cities (1:38), and the agenda does not change regarding His taking the initiative: it is the same initiative at the beginning, when nobody knew Him, to later, when everybody looked for Him (1:37). He does not surrender the initiative of His ministry up to others.

When we go behind the scenes and behind the doors (1:29ff) even though crowds will certainly be coming. there it is peace, healing (1:31), and regularity (2:13), though of an unexpected kind (2:16,18,24).

Thus the religious conflict between Christ and the scribes (2:6) does not at first come about through antagonism to His person as such, as in pure animosity, but because of the fact that they can't stomach the content of what He is saying (2:5,7). Christ does not dismiss their uneasiness, but addresses it (2:8-10). The teaching is bursting the skins of the existing system, however. This is stated as a principle or parable (2:21-22), as well as starkly and directly (2:28).

New Year: Matt 27-28 for Oct 19

The accomplishments of the Messiah in the gospel according to Matthew are presented to the OT-prepared readers. The fact that they included His death and resurrection was known to the reader from chapter 16 onward, and we've seen how they transpired in these last two chapters of the gospel.

Christ's identity as the Son of God as well is so well-attested that His enemies testify to it (27:43) at the cross. Neutral parties become convinced of it (27:54).

People often wonder at why the Resurrection itself (28:5,6) does not get its own at-the-time description. There is plenty of witness to the aftermath of it, the number one witness being, of course, Himself being present, with all the words and actions and physicality (28:9ff).

Part of the answer is that Matthew combines his own witness with the prophecies of the OT, and the readers are not trying to depend on something of which they have no other prior witness of. The traitor's price had a witness there. The Gentiles got their witness (27:19), but it wasn't of something they would be able to control. It was according to plan. Matthew showed the disciples (16:21) that Christ "must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day." This was what God made necessary. We are quite justified to expect His presence with us to the end of the age (28:20).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Year: Matt 24-26 for Oct 18

One common theme in these chapters is the contrary-to-expection quality of what the Messiah will do in the future, both near and far-term.

Those who say that the whole idea of the future return of Christ is invented, and did not come from Him, have a problem on their hands that comes from the structure of the passages here. It is true that the events are taught in a setting that is far removed from the A.D. 30's, and sweeps across history (24:9). However, that is just as true of Matthew 10 (10:18-23)! The tenor of what Jesus is saying is unmistakably His in both places. It is not a patchwork.

Some of this unmistable tenor is as follows: the Lord asks us in many ways in this gospel, to not worry, yet here He is saying to beware lest something occur, and warns us to do certain things in case. To punctuate just one of these sections (24:15-24), He ends it with "behold, I have told you in advance." How is it that so many dark things will be happening, and we (as a unitary group from the time He spoke these things until He returns) told to watch out for this and that, and yet it is enough to hear "behold, I have told you in advance?" It must be because He's also predicting our safe passage. Being saved means being safe. "He who endures to the end" describes not their qualities of heart, but the ticking of their heart, and God bringing them to safety.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New Year: Matt 21-23 for Oct 17

Matthew 21-23 contains the most remarkable extended confrontation of Christ with the religion of outward pretense in all the gospels. And yet Matthew 23 ends on a hint of hope even for those He has confronted (23:39).

We have been gradually prepared for this confrontation from previous ones, from as early as chapter 2 (2:3ff). And we should expect that Matthew, who wrote presenting the Messiah from the first verse onward (Matthew 1:1, "Jesus, the Messiah,"), will present Him not only in His relationship to those in support, but in His relationship to those who oppose Him; in relationship not only to that which supports, but to that which opposes Him.

For the Lord knows to deal, in real-time, on the spot, with the sin of those who sin against Him. Where discussion suffices, He explains with discussion (21:16). When there is hypocrisy behind the discussion of a subject, He dismisses the subject, but not those discussing (21:28,33,40; 22:1), and continues until they themselves go off (22:15), at least temporarily (22:16). He confounds their intellectual traps (22:15), and conundrums (22:28-30), and along the way shows such an obvious mastery of the Old Testament (22:32,37-39,44-45) that not only are those kinds of questions stopped, but the crowds are astonished at His teaching (22:33). Along the way, the reader hears a summary of the whole Law and Prophets (22:40).

People might say not to memorize chapter 23, because it is so specific to those people and that time. Is it? Regarding people (23:12)? And is it, regarding the time (23:39)?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Year: Matt 18-20 for Oct 16

We know lots more in these chapters about specifics of the Lord's teaching, all the more so because the people who He ministers to in these chapters are "all over the map." They want greatness (20:21); they want to have at least the knowledge of measure of personal greatness (18:1); they want their own specific formulations answered (18:21; 19:10), but His teaching breaks the formulations in every case (18:1-3; 18:18; 18:35; 19:9; 19:17; 20:14-16; 20:26-28).

So with the disciples searching for ways to do comparisons, the Pharisees doing their tests, mothers doing their preferment attempts -- not to mention the man trying to get to inherit eternal life in steps -- the Lord's teaching breaks this achievement-bound thinking in many ways. In 18:1-6 and 19:13-15 the Lord puts forward children, universally thought of as those who have not achieved, as those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs (19:14), and from who something must be gathered, which everything depends on (18:3). For those who think of achievement as time spent, the Lord has a parable about the generous employer who ignores time spent (20:1-16). The needy (19:2; 20:29-34), and the ones who are too young to have done much or even anything, or too late to have worked much, are teaching the rest.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Year: Matt 15-17 for Oct 15

We can't even just plain understand who the Son of Man is without help with a capital H. Big help. God needs to reveal who He is, to Peter (Matt 16:14-17).

Some things are people's responsibility to understand; for example, in the Pharisees' and Sadducees' case, the signs of the times (16:3); the word of God (15:6), not to transgress (15:3) and invalidate it (15:6) for the sake of tradition.

There are things to beware of, in the pursuit of what the disciples need to know, for example, the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:12). The disciples fail in the area of understanding (16:11), and it involves their not remembering what they have seen (16:9) and its significance, and it somehow should be associated with being "men of little faith" (16:8; 17:20) as well.

But it is not a quid pro quo. It's not that Peter achieved some ladder-like position of greater faith, but that God the Father revealed to Peter the two parts of his answer (16:16-17). The subsequent promises are also unilateral acts (16:18-19).

Previously, Jesus had antagonistic opposition to His actions, and, as we would have expected from early on (5:20), to His teaching. Now, some of the opposition is even picayune (15:2), or that of petty offense taking (15:12), or trap-setting (16:1), but some of it was of the worst consequence to the those who opposed Him (12:24-32). What kind of thing is opposition to the Lord's practice (15:2), to His teaching (15:11), to the continuing of His agenda without their approval (16:1)? Is it not ultimately over time ensuant of Jesus suffering and death (16:21)? Perhaps that's the leaven-aspect of the teaching He warns about (16:12). What is taught has effect.

Jesus introduces the subject of His suffering and death here, and we read of Peter and the disciples' (16:20) dealing with it for the first time. For Peter, James, and John, the Transfiguration, and the accompanying understanding they were given (17:5) did not prevent their grief (17:22-23).

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Year: Matt 12-14 for Oct 14

The combined acts and teaching of the Lord in these chapters draw the crowds and amaze the disciples. But these chapters more bring out the "ethical effects," we can call them, of His ministry (His own presence, His actions, and His teaching), upon various individuals, sets, and types of people. What are these ethical effects, and with what (individuals, sets, types of) people?

With "the Pharisees" (12:2,14,24), in "their synagogue" (12:9):
correction concerning religion in general (12:7), the Sabbath (12:8,12), and their view of Him (12:27-32).

With "His disciples" (12:1,49; 13:10-11,16-17,24,31,33,36; 14:22,31):
knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, (13:11-12); the seeing eye and the hearing ear (13:16); instances of courage and faith (14:16-18,26-33).

With the "large crowd" (12:15, 46; 13:2-3,11-15,34-36; 14:14,19); healing of all, teaching among them for the granting more to him who has, and the taking away from him who does not have (13:12).

With "this evil generation" as a whole (12:38-45): providing the one sign of Himself, and the many witnesses against it because of not repenting at at the opportunity and because of the return of evil afterwards.

With "all who were sick" (12:10-13,22; 14:14,34-35); immediate healing, and the preemminence of doing good above the Sabbath law.

With "his hometown and his household" (13:53-58): not many miracles, because of unbelief and the taking of offense at Him.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Year: Matt 9-11 for Oct 13

There has not been a moment's rest from excitement to read the next thing, from the first verse of Matthew which mentions the Messiah, to now at the end of chapter 11, until that moment perhaps, there in that last paragraph of chapter 11, Matt 11:28-30, where Jesus directly promises rest.

Reading with anticipation what Messiah Himself was doing among the lost sheep of Israel's house (Mt 10:6), we saw that everything was going at a fast pace, combining authoritative teaching with a level of the miraculous that had never been seen before in Israel (9:33). But when the Lord sends His twelve disciples with His authority to do what He had been doing, a grand panoramic scope of activity over space, and over time unfolds (10:23). What it means that the Messiah has arrived for Israel covers not only all Israel, but all of the time until Christ, the Son of Man, "comes," and subsequent to that. The reception not only of Christ, but of those He sends, brings the consequences of the next age in (10:40-42; 11:20-24).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Year: Matt 6-8 for Oct 12

Matt 6:2 --

Reading this verse woodenly, we might not see the irony, the humor, in the portrayal of the trumpet player. The clue is that "in the synagogues" and "in the streets" is where the acts would occur, but the trumpet playing, described for irony as a subsequent act, is not a subsequent act (Jesus was not talking about actual trumpet events at synagogue and in the streets!). The picture represents the appropriate high ridicule heaped on the act itself. How many times have people read this verse, not thinking, and thought, "hmm, of course I would never play a trumpet, i.e. brag, right after I gave to the poor ... how ridiculous." Good! But giving to the poor in order be honored ... IS playing the trumpet. No subsequent concert necessary, the trumpet has already been played. It's not bragging afterwards, which we would tend to easily laugh at. Therefore, let the humor of that instruct us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Year: Matt 3-5 for Oct 11

Having emphasized so much how things that transpired fulfilled the prophets, Matthew presents John the Baptist in the same vein (Matt 3:3). The time right before a unique and unrepeatable event is a unique and unrepeatable time, if somehow we become aware that it is at hand (3:2). The blessing of John the Baptist to the nation was just such a thing.

It brought those who came to him, even the "brood of vipers," into a correct preparation for what the prophets had predicted, the kingdom of heaven, but John did not, nor could not, do that himself. God warned those who came, to flee from the wrath to come. That was the answer to John's question in 3:7.

The exhortation to them therefore is not a dare, as if John taunted those who came to him to bear fruit because they could not. "Therefore bear fruit..." Since God has warned them, John exhorts those God has thus warned to flee, to do this, and not be inert like stones, which nevertheless God can transform even though they are inert. God has warned, and therefore it is God who says something should be done, actions taken. They are not stones, but have been given their warning to act, which stones cannot do.

This flight from the wrath to come will be a success if a tree bears fruit. The axe is laid at the root of all trees, since the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but the fruit bearing tree will not be cut down and will not be thrown into the fire.

What is the fruit? Is it the repentance? No, but it, the fruit, is in keeping with repentance. It fits with repentance. It fits also with the flight from the wrath to come. Since they are in flight, having been warned by God no less than Joseph was in his situation (2:22), John commends and points them to the bearing of fruit, Fruit in keeping with repentance is fruit in keeping with their flight.

John associates himself and his baptism with repentance, but promises something which is very close now, which is much bigger. He who is coming will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

He had just talked about fire (3:10), before saying that (3:11). That which John prepares them for (the kingdom of heaven) is coming upon them, and "He who is coming after me" is going to immerse them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Whom? To whom will He who is coming after John do this? To those who came to John. So much the more, then, the call to bear fruit is urgent, since the one who is coming is the one who harvests the wheat and burns the chaff.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Year: Matt 1-2 for Oct 10

The coming of the Messiah is good news for the Jews of Matthew's time -- pending investigation of the claim, that is. That is how Matthew approaches it. He gives the very important geneology, and starts with what is already known to be the case by the OT-steeped readers: Abraham, his descendants, and the names known in the history of Israel.

Thus Matthew doesn't assume the case of Jesus' Messiahship, but sets forth the facts to the reader, with all the awareness that one should not assume the thing one is trying to prove (1:16): "who is called the Messiah" is very circumspect language, and is right in the middle of the deployment of the evidence.

People who have trouble counting the fourteens can be helped by the following acronyms, which show the three sets of fourteens in 1:17: [AIJJPHRANSBOJD], [SRAAJJUJAHMAJ"D"], [JSZAEAZAEEMJJ"M"].

The logical steps of Matthew 1-2 are very clear: genealogy, birth, and parentage of the Messiah. Layed on top of this history is interwoven, with no apology whatsover, a staggering set of facts about the Messiah that are only explainable in two ways: that they are from God, and that they are from the Old Testament. But to the Jew, this is an OF COURSE, something to be expected, when and if God sends Messiah.

1. Stars guiding Gentiles, who seem to know something about the "born king of the Jews." Contra Herod and Jerusalem in toto. Their skillset, astronomy, is used by God, but in a totally divinely ordained way, and obviously so: they get guided by the star, lose track of it and have to detour to Jerusalem to get directions, from of all people, Herod! then, they find the star again, not knowing at that point the danger to the Messiah they have seemingly caused, yet God superintending this all!

2. This no normal birth, and Messiah is not merely David's son, but God's! All handled by the intervention of God not only with Mary, but into Joseph's life, guiding him in detail on what to do, from the beginning to the end. Old Testament prophecy confirms to the reader as well (1:23).

3. Most importantly of all, Matthew reports, not as his own theological reflection on Jesus, but as the pre-birth words of the angel, and thus as a message of divine origin, that Jesus, the child's name, is what Joseph will call Him, ... BECAUSE He will save His people from their sins! (1:21). Matthew reports this, as one of the details of an announcement to Joseph, and this conclusion has been the master of thousands of years of the best efforts at theology and the significance of Christianity. All wrapped up in one comment by an angel to Joseph, which Matthew reports.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

New Year: Mal 1-4 for Oct 9

The prophet Malachi's word from God to Israel comes to them largely in the form of question-and-answer dialog with them (1:2,6-9,13;2:13-14,17;3:7,13-15). Mostly, God queries, and they have no answer. To their queries, God answers, but the answers don't affirm the nation's condition as satisfactory. The prophet closes the Old Testament with prediction of God's unilateral restorative action.

As in other prophets, present conditions are contrasted with a time yet future (1:5,11;3:1-5,10-12,17-18;4:1-3,5-6). The effect of these future actions of God is described in two ways: a delightful land and blessed nation (1:5; 3:12), and the separation of the righteous and wicked through the judgment of the latter, which "will leave them neither root nor branch" (4:1).


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